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Glenn Gould was the 'strange bird' locked in Wawa Motor Inn room 102

Glenn Gould did a lot of writing while spending summers in Wawa. Local musicologist and author Dale Innes launched her book about Gould's connection to Algoma at the art gallery on Saturday.

Glenn Gould used to travel to Wawa and lock himself in room 102 at the Wawa Motor Inn according to a new book by local musicologist Dale Innes. 

At an official book launch at the Art Gallery of Algoma on Saturday, Innes read excerpts and signed copies of her new book Seeking Solitude: Glenn Gould and the Goldberg Variations.

The book is a summary of Gould’s life with extra attention spent on his 1955 and 1981 Goldberg Variations recordings as well as his time spent in the Algoma region.

Innes said that Gould started regularly travelling to the area after 1960 when the stretch of Highway 17 between Sault Ste. Marie and Wawa was completed. 

“He used to go up to Wawa and rent a room and stay there and write. It was his way of getting away from recording and the busyness of the city. It allowed him to think about his life and find direction,” she said.

Innes said that while in Wawa, when not immersing himself in the northern landscape, Gould would work on essays and radio documentary scripts. 

She said that the former Wawa Motor Inn owner Ian McDonald described him as ‘a strange bird’ and that they ‘couldn’t quite figure him out’.

“He locked himself in a room and wrote all day, that’s strange. Going to Wawa in the 60s and 70s was probably kind of strange anyways. I think he was trying to cocoon himself,” said Innes.

She said there are “rumours” that, because Gould recorded for Columbia Masterworks, he got a kick out of eating at Wawa’s Columbia Restaurant. 

She said that when in Wawa Gould was known to walk along Lake Superior, High Falls, and the Michipicoten Harbor.

Innes first heard about Gould when she attended the Royal Conservatory of Music and then later she researched him while completing her masters in ethnomusicology at York University in the 1980s.

Innes moved to Sault Ste. Marie in 1991 and for many years worked as the music coordinator at Algoma University. 

In 1999 Innes started giving Glen Gould themed tours in  Wawa and since 2008 she has presented a the Coalition for Algoma Passenger Trains (CAPT)'s annual Group of Seven and Glenn Gould Train Event.

The book launch was put on by CAPT and the NORDIK Institute, both of whom are interested in promoting the enrichment and diversification of tourism in the Algoma region.

“A lot of tourists go to Toronto to see Glenn Gould but increasingly they are coming up here now to see where he summered, got his inspiration, and the importance of the north to his music and philosophy,“ said Dr. Linda Savory-Gordon, who is with both organizations.

Savory-Gordon said Gould’s connection with the Algoma region is related to the growing areas of  ‘place based’ and ‘cultural based’ tourism.

“There will always be an interest in fishing and hunting up north but (Glenn Gould’s connection to the region) draws in a new tourism market that didn’t know we had interesting cultural things here,” she said.

Seeking Solitude: Glenn Gould and the Goldberg Variations was put out by Penumbra Press and copies are available at Shabby Motley, the Thomas Walls School of Music, and the Art Gallery of Algoma.

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Jeff Klassen

About the Author: Jeff Klassen

Jeff Klassen is a SooToday staff reporter who is always looking for an interesting story
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